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NCAA Softball World Series 2011 Starting Lineup Preview: Cal Softball Versus Alabama Crimson Tide

The California Golden Bears softball kicks off their 2011 Women's College World Series appearance with the number two seed in the tournament. The Alabama Crimson Tide enter the WCWS as one of the co-favorites alongside Arizona State. The Tide won the only previous postseason matchup against Cal in 2007, but Cal holds a 3-2 all-time overall record against Alabama.

The Bears reached this point in the tournament with a strong series of road wins. They went into the Louisville regional and swept through with a win over Jacksonville State, followed by a pair of wins over host Louisville. They followed that up by heading over to Lexington, Kentucky and defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 2-1 in a best-of-three series. This follows their pattern of strong road performances all season long as they now stand 33-8 in road/neutral games. They're going to be underdogs against Alabama, but their performance this season has put them in a position to potentially spring an upset.

The Bears have been led by a mix of strong pitching and timely hitting. Pitcher Jolene Henderson has dominated the entire season and now sits at 39-8 with a 0.87 ERA. She was roughed up by Kentucky in the second game of the super regional series but bounced back to shut them out in game three. The Cal hitters don't quite match up with the Alabama bats, but they have proven their ability to get timely hits. They have three particularly solid hitters in Britt Vonk (.412/.505/.467), Jamia Reid (.409/.427/.518) and Jace Williams (.387/.481/.490). The lineup drops off rather precipitously after that, so the Bears will likely need to win some pitcher's duels.

The Tide currently stand 51-9 in 2011 and ridden home field advantage to the WCWS. Alabama rolled through their Tuscaloosa regional with a win over Jackson State and a pair of wins over Chattanooga. In their super regional they actually lost the opener to Stanford before bouncing back with a pair of strong performances to advance to the WCWS.

Alabama gets strong starting pitching from the duo of Kelsi Dunne and Jackie Traina who throw out 1.15 and 1.28 ERAs respectively. However, as solid as the starting pitching is, the offense is downright dominant. They boast a .315 batting average with seven players hitting over .300 in their starting lineup. They put up 432 runs in 2011 and will look to get to Jolene Henderson early. While Cal has shown an ability to score a decent amount of runs at times (see game three of Kentucky super regional), it is not something they can be expected to do consistently. If Cal is going to spring a day one upset, they'll need to keep things low-scoring.

The game will be the first matchup of the day and will be broadcast on ESPN2 in HD and will also be available via live online stream at espn3.com. Below is a rundown of probable starting lineups for Thursday's opener.

Probable Cal Starting Lineup
LF: #3 Jamia Reid
SS: #18 Britt Vonk
3B: #7 Jace Williams
C: #17 Lindsey Ziegenhirt
CF: #1 Frani Echavarria
DP: #23 Ashley Decker
2B: #10 Victoria Jones
1B: #2 Jordan Wallace
RF: #5 Elia Reid
P: #52 Jolene Henderson

Probable Alabama Starting Lineup
LF: #1 Kayla Braud
CF: #7 Jennifer Fenton
SS: #20 Whitney Larsen
DP: #22 Amanda Locke
RF: #2 Jazlyn Lunceford
1B: #18 Cassie Reilly-Boccia
2B: #10 Kaila Hunt
C: #12 Kendall Dawson
3B: #9 Courtney Conley
P: #0 Kelsi Dunne